Fitz, his contract and the Super Bowl firing line

Posted by Darren Urban on January 8, 2015 – 1:08 pm

The “deadline,” such that it is, comes on the fifth day of the NFL’s league year — which begins March 10 at 2 p.m. Arizona time. That’s when, if Larry Fitzgerald is still on the Cardinals’ roster and still has his current contract in place, he is owed $8 million. That’s the real date at which everyone is focused to see what happens with the wide receiver and whether he stays with the Cardinals and if so, what kind of contract he has.

GM Steve Keim has long acknowledged he has had ongoing discussions with Fitzgerald’s agent about redoing the contract and fixing that bloated $23.6 million salary cap number Fitz carries with him. There have been a couple of reports out there that the conversations toward a new deal have been positive. That’s good, although as we all know, something like this isn’t done until it’s done, and just because someone hasn’t hung up on someone else doesn’t guarantee anything.

Still, you start to think about that March deadline, and one other potentially artificial one: Super Bowl week.

Fitzgerald is usually a regular on radio row at Super Bowl week. Whether it’s for the company EAS or someone else for which he might be a spokesman, that’s the week where the sponsors want to capitalize on having the big name doing their work. When Fitz does a bunch of TV and radio interviews heading into the NFL’s biggest game, he’s answering a lot of questions.

And while Fitz always handles himself and his answers like a pro — he’s really, really good at that part of his job — it’s not always his favorite thing to talk about the more controversial of subjects (like, in years past, the chaotic quarterback situation with the Cardinals.) So what happens when he sits down for interview after interview and the first (and probably not the only) question he is asked is about whether he’ll be a Cardinal? His contract situation, which I know he’d rather not talk about, could end up taking up the entire segment.

(Except for the one EAS question at the very end, right?)

I’m not saying anything is going to get done with the Cardinals and Fitzgerald by Super Bowl week — to me, the only thing that would be done that quickly would be a way to keep him in Arizona, because a trade can’t happen until March 10 and they aren’t releasing him at that point — just because he’ll be doing some interviews. But it’s something to think about.


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The impact of losing Darnell Dockett

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2014 – 10:16 pm

Injuries happen every preseason. They are not all created equal.

Even the long-term injuries are not created equal. As much as Jonathan Cooper’s injury hurt the Cardinals last year — and at the time, GM Steve Keim felt Cooper was the Cardinals’ best offensive lineman — there is an jarring emotional slam with the news Darnell Dockett is done for the season. That comes on many levels. On a defense that already lost Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington from last year’s unit, losing Dockett is a difficult pill to swallow.

After Dockett was carted off and practice resumed with some 7-on-7 work, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner gathered his players on the field and they all took a knee. I don’t know exactly what was said, but it certainly looked like Buckner was helping his guys get through what already looked like a rough patch that was later confirmed.

Now though, it’s about moving on. It’s about the future, which is in the short-term the 2014 season and in the long-term where 2015 might take Dockett and the Cardinals. Veteran Frostee Rucker should move into Dockett’s starting role, but again, there was always going to be a rotation on the defensive line. There was a reason the Cardinals drafted Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson. Those rookies are going to have to play a bigger role. They are going to have to grow up very fast because Dockett won’t be there to anchor — along with Calais Campbell — the line. One potential free agent to look at is long-time 3-4 defensive end Brett Keisel, Keisel was cut by the Steelers this offseason but he knows Bruce Arians and Buckner from their time in Pittsburgh. I have no idea if it’s possible he could come — I have no idea what kind of money he might want — but the Cardinals will need to add someone.

What will happen next year becomes very interesting. Dockett will turn 34 in May. He will be coming off major knee surgery. He will be going into the last year of his contract and will be due $6.5 million in salary and will have a $9.8M cap hit. That’s a lot of money for an older lineman. Like Larry Fitzgerald and his $23.6M cap hit in 2015, Dockett’s bulky contract was always going to be an issue after this season. That certainly hasn’t changed, and perhaps, becomes more of an issue because of the injury.

In the moment, though, there is only the gut-punch to the Cardinals. And the long rehab Dockett faces while the Cards try to prepare for the season to come.

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Peterson contract wait no surprise

Posted by Darren Urban on June 27, 2014 – 8:05 am

I’ve gotten multiple questions about Patrick Peterson’s potential extension – or possible extension, or inevitable extension, however you want to describe it – and for now, it’s about waiting. There have been initial talks, but as Kent Somers breaks down, there are reasons for that. I’m not sure when this will get done, other than I feel confident in saying it will get done at some point.

The 2011 first-rounders are all in the same boat, however. Of the 32 first-round picks from 2011 – the ones who had the fifth-year player option available to the teams to lock up the 2015 season, as the Cardinals did with Peterson –a total of 21 had their 2015 option picked up. Of the 11 that didn’t have it picked up, three have been traded (QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Jonathan Baldwin, OL Gabe Carimi) and one was cut (OL Danny Watkins).

None have yet signed an extension.

Not all are going to get an extension. It’s very much up in the air if a Christian Ponder or Jake Locker will ever get another deal with the teams that picked them (actually, it’s probably a sure thing Ponder will not). Many, though, will, and while it’s on everybody’s mind here about Peterson, the top of that draft has plenty of players about which everyone will be waiting to see when they get their new contracts and how much it is:

(1) Carolina              Cam Newton                     2015 option picked up
(2) Denver                Von Miller                     2015 option picked up
(3) Buffalo               Marcell Dareus                 2015 option picked up
(4) Cincinnati           A.J. Green                     2015 option picked up
(5) Arizona               Patrick Peterson              2015 option picked up
(6) Atlanta               Julio Jones                    2015 option picked up
(7) San Francisco     Aldon Smith                    2015 option picked up
(9) Dallas                Tyron Smith                    2015 option picked up
(11) Houston              J.J. Watt                      2015 option picked up

There is cap room to get something done, but then again, a team can always find the cap room to get deals done if they need it anyway. Is it possible there won’t be any deals until after the season for any of the 2011 first rounders? I could see it. The wait will be, well, whatever the wait is. Guys like Newton, Miller, Green, Jones, Watt and Peterson — I know this, that they will all get a new contract with their current team. It’s about when, not if.

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Peterson will be smart during contract talks

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2014 – 9:48 am

First of all, Patrick Peterson isn’t going to hold out. If that was a question, Peterson stepped on it and killed it when asked about his contract extension situation yesterday.

“There won’t be no holding out for me,” Peterson said. “I want to continue playing football at a high level. … I have two years left so there’s no sense holding out.”

Peterson was holding a presser yesterday to talk about his charity dinner and foundations (all details are at but inevitably it turned into a discussion about the Pro Bowl cornerback’s contract status. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman just got a big contract extension, Browns cornerback Joe Haden just received one Tuesday morning, and these days, most consider Sherman, Haden and Peterson the top three young cornerbacks in the game. Peterson is going to need an extension, and while the Cardinals have some time after exercising Peterson’s 2015 team option — hence the “two years left” — it’s coming sooner rather than later.

Peterson, though, understands the process. He talked of working on something “bigger” than just a contract, and insisted he’ll be patient.

“I think I’m definitely well-deserving of a new contract, but at the end of the day it’s a business,” Peterson said. “You’ve got (salary) cap numbers, you’ve got other guys you need to take care of, the rookie pool. All that stuff falls into perspective, but at the end of the day I know (GM) Steve Keim, coach (Bruce) Arians and Mr. (Michael) Bidwill, they want me here for the long haul.”

That’s true. Ask Keim and he couldn’t act more confident that Peterson’s situation will eventually get worked out. Will it get messy? I don’t see it. Peterson is a smart man. He works in the big picture, not unlike teammate Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz has had a couple of uncomfortable contract situations (always with the leverage over the team, but still) and he has deftly worked around any bad feelings it might have caused not only with the team but the fan base. Peterson knows a holdout wouldn’t go over well with anyone and it probably wouldn’t make a huge impact either given how much time is left on his deal.

Instead, he’ll work within the system. And in the end, like Sherman and Haden, he’s gonna get paid.

“They drafted me for the long haul,” Peterson said. “I want to be that Adrian Wilson of the organization, that Larry Fitzgerald, that Darnell Dockett. I believe I’ve done some great things here early in my career, and I want to be here for a while.”



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An option for Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on April 21, 2014 – 1:58 pm

It came as little surprise, given the circumstances and previous reports that it was going to happen, but the Cardinals officially executed the fifth-year team option on the rookie contract of Patrick Peterson today. The option is for the 2015 season, and will pay Peterson a little more than $10 million. More importantly, it gives the Cards some breathing room as they move toward a long-term contract extension. Peterson was at the facility today (although I didn’t get a chance to talk to him.) Without the option, Peterson would have been an unrestricted free agent after the season.

What the timeline will be for a Peterson extension is unknown. This isn’t a new subject. The option year means the Cards aren’t really under any pressure to get a new deal done yet — this could be complicated, since Peterson is going to want a hefty new contract — but General Manager Steve Keim has left little interpretation about Peterson’s future. Peterson isn’t going anywhere. He has joined Larry Fitzgerald as one of the faces of the franchise, and that isn’t going to change.

The contract is part of the reason a guy like Antonio Cromartie gets only a one-year deal. There are other factors, of course, but in part it’s because the Cards will have a significant investment in the other starting cornerback. Given needs across the depth chart, having to pay both starting CBs big money probably isn’t feasible in this salary-capped world. Given who is involved, with Keim and Peterson, I still expect this to come out with relatively few issues. It might not happen right away, but it’s going to happen.



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Fitz, his contract and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2013 – 11:32 am

First of all, let’s consider the carefully crafted wording of Adam Schefter’s headline grabbing tweet this morning, the one in which he followed up the mention of a possible Larry Fitzgerald trade after the season. “Some believe a divorce is somewhere between possible and inevitable,” Schefter wrote, which is a little less than concrete (and doesn’t necessarily point to who “some” are.) The reality is this: Fitz carries an $18 million cap hit next season with a salary of $13 million. It’s an issue that has been on the radar for a while.

The idea that the Cardinals would talk to Fitz about his contract and a possible restructure not only isn’t a surprise, it’d probably be bad business not to explore that option. So too would be not at least looking at all options, which could include a trade. does a nice job breaking down the financial details of a potential trade and these are the things that have to be considered — especially if Fitzgerald ends up with another sub-1,000-yard season. There are many reasons why Fitz’s production is down and a chunk of it is out of his hands. But obviously, GM Steve Keim has to look at this team long-term. He’s already talked about having to make more “tough decisions” again this coming offseason. This isn’t to say Fitzgerald isn’t going to be a Cardinal next year. It’s way too early to know that.

I don’t have any doubt the Cardinals would want to keep Fitzgerald. But circumstances change, and so too do the circumstances (i.e. contract) under which they’d want to keep him. This isn’t about Fitz’s ability being wasted and needing to go somewhere where he can win — Fitzgerald has made more than $100 million, he freely signed his contracts, and he knew what choices he was making — but he is going to look out for himself and the Cardinals are going to look out for the franchise. (I would also be very curious, if a trade were explored, if the new team would accept the current contract or if they too would want a new pact.)

In that context, a divorce between many star NFL players and their respective teams would almost always be between possible and inevitable. The few that it wouldn’t apply to live in that window a relatively short time.

UPDATE: Fitz, when asked after Sunday’s game about the rumors: “I come to work everyday and just focus on how I can help the Arizona Cardinals and help my team win. If they decide to move me, that happens. I have no control over any of that. I just focus on what I can do to improve and help my team.”

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Fitz, his hamstrings, and getting the ball

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2013 – 9:43 am

Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t like talking about his injuries. He doesn’t like having them in the first place, he doesn’t want to look like he is making excuses and he certainly doesn’t want to dwell on them. Clearly his hamstrings have been an issue although the hope is he will be healthy going forward at this point.

“Larry probably played that (Seattle) game at 80 percent,” coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday night on his weekly Sirius XM NFL radio appearance. “It has bothered him. He reinjured it a couple Fridays ago and he continues to try to gut it out and play. This rest has really helped him and I’m hoping Thursday — we may give him off again (Wednesday) — I want to see this thing healed up 100 percent.”

I’m sure Fitz feels the same. His season has not played out the way he wanted — again — and whether it’s the injuries or the overall play of the offense or Kurt Warner’s theory about using Fitz inside, the bottom line is that the numbers are down. Last year, when Fitz finished with 71 catches for 798 yards, through seven games he had compiled 40 receptions for 459 yards. This year through seven games Fitzgerald has 32 catches for 422 yards (although it should be noted Fitz has already equaled his 2012 touchdown total of four.)

Now, Fitz’s numbers fell off a cliff last year the final seven games of the season, save for his eight-catch, 111-yard game against Chicago late. In theory, the Cardinals are coming into a part of the schedule that shouldn’t be quite as hard on the passing game, although everyone in that regard, with quarterback Carson Palmer and the pass protection in particular, must up their game.

It’s become fashionable to speculate again on Fitzgerald and his future, given the numbers both in the stat book and from his contract. But seven games into the season, much can still happen in many different ways with this team and with how Fitz’s season turns out. Steve Keim has proven to be a more active GM than Rod Graves, but I still think Fitzgerald is part of the solution here.

— And as a quick aside, in that same Sirius interview, Arians was asked straight out if he considered making a change at quarterback. Arians again said no. “I’m not a jump-off-the-horse-type of guy,” Arians said.


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Getting Cooper signed

Posted by Darren Urban on July 22, 2013 – 8:56 am

Training camp is a couple of days away. Rookies are going to show up to the Tempe complex tomorrow, there will be the run test at University of Phoenix Stadium Thursday — yes, even with the coaching change, the run test lives! — and the first practice of training camp Friday. At this point, the burning question is when unsigned first-round pick Jonathan Cooper will be a part of it.

As of right now, 15 of the 32 first-round picks have yet to agree to contracts, with every team set to start camp by the end of the week. The only unsigned guy picked higher than Cooper is No. 1 pick Eric Fisher. Again, because these deals are slotted, there is relatively little work involved. I know there has been a ton of talk about offset language and I do not know if that is something the Cardinals are considering asking for from Cooper. But I have never once gotten the sense there is any concern from the team a deal will be done on time, although there isn’t much being said right now.

“We continue to have ongoing conversations with his representatives but no deal is imminent at this time,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday morning.

I had mentioned before I didn’t expect anything until this week anyway. Plus, in the big picture, I’ve seen too many situations where this — a No. 1 pick not signing quite on time for camp — meant very, very little. As I look back on my 14 years covering this team, I can only think of one lengthy holdout that ultimately had a impact. That was defensive tackle Wendell Bryant in 2002, when he didn’t sign until into September and was worthless to the Cards all season. Then again, given hindsight on Bryant, I’m not sure he would have been salvageable even if he would have been there Day One. Matt Leinart was a couple weeks late in 2006, but he was supposed to sit behind Kurt Warner all season anyway. And when Kurt struggled, it didn’t stop Denny Green from putting Leinart in early in the season and he actually played well right out of the box.

As for all the other guys who didn’t quite sign on time — Patrick Peterson, Levi Brown are two that come to mind — did you even remember they weren’t there that very first day?

Cooper got plenty of work in the offseason with the starting unit. He’s a smart guy and driven. This contract isn’t complicated, given the slotting system, nowhere near it was for say, Peterson in 2011 when he was the No. 5 overall pick. I still think Cooper is signed this week on time, but again, I’m not sure a day here or there matters. When he is in the starting lineup Sept. 8 against the Rams, no one is going to be thinking about the day he signed his first deal.


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How Fitz wears the cap

Posted by Darren Urban on July 12, 2013 – 10:42 am

When Larry Fitzgerald agreed to his last contract, he had been out eating at a local restaurant and had to be summoned to a press conference. Fitz loves getting his contracts but truth be told, he’d rather not have to talk about them. That part is something he’d rather keep behind the scenes. But this is professional sports, where the public knows what you are making and also, when what you are making becomes an issue that must be accounted for when it comes to building a team.

The recent new deal for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford highlights the reality of the NFL: Sometimes, a player’s salary cap number becomes (or will become) so unwieldy it must be addressed. There’s no way to know how the Cardinals see Fitzgerald’s current deal in that light, but there are decisions that have to be made over the next year or two — decisions Fitz and his agents certainly understood when they signed this pact in 2011.

This season, Fitzgerald has a salary cap figure of “only” $10.25 million. It’s not insignificant, yet it is much smaller than what is to come. In 2014, that cap figure jumps to $18M. In 2015, it jumps again to $21.25M. That’s a pretty big chunk of cap to eat up when most believe there will be no significant leap in the cap space in the next couple of years. (There are various opinions on that, given the new TV contract that will eventually kick in, but my understanding is that the cap will go up slow and steady rather than in one fell swoop.) Both cap hits are scheduled to be the largest in the league in that year for any wide receiver, even more than Calvin Johnson, who signed a mega-deal after Fitz’s.

The Cardinals worked hard to clear cap space this year for the future and have more non-Fitz choices to make again next season. Given how many free-agents-to-be they will have after this season, they can deal with Fitz’s hefty 2014 number. Will they want to? Can they again in 2015? Right now, the only large extension coming down the road is one for Patrick Peterson, who is eligible for a new deal as soon as this season ends. I’ve heard from fans wondering/concerned if they might trade Fitzgerald, but that doesn’t seem practical for a couple of reasons. One, dealing Fitz in 2014 would saddle the Cards with $13M in dead cap space (and doing it for 2015 would be $8M in dead space.) Besides, barring a massive dropoff in play, he just means so much to the franchise both on and off the field. They certainly won’t just release him.

That leaves a couple of options. One is to play it out. It will hamstring some of the flexibility of GM Steve Keim, but it’s tough to know exactly where this team is going to be year-to-year and you don’t have to make any decisions now. There is also the possibility of reworking Fitzgerald’s deal — again — to make it more team-friendly. What does that mean? It would mean Fitz would get another hefty upfront payday, something he wouldn’t turn down. That, of course, would push the Fitz cap issue further into the future. But that’s how it works. The last time Fitz talked about his contract, he and Michael Bidwill talked about Larry eventually retiring as a Cardinal. I’m sure that’s still the plan.

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Some quick odds and ends

Posted by Darren Urban on July 9, 2013 – 12:58 pm

With camp fast approaching, I figured it’s a good time for a live chat, which will take place tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. right here. Rookies report July 23, so we’re basically two weeks away from stuff happening. Feel free to pop in and ask some questions. I’ll be on there for about an hour or so. Not a whole lot set in cement yet, obviously, and while it’s not always had to discern most of the starters, there will be some interesting battles to whittle down to a 53-man roster.

— Got a random question on Twitter about the fact No. 1 draft pick Jonathan Cooper is unsigned. No, it’s not a worry. As I said, the rookies will be in the 23rd, with the first practice July 26. I don’t have any doubt that’s a window big enough to get it done.

— If you hadn’t seen, Coach Bruce Arians is up for the vote for Coach of the Year in the upcoming ESPYs. Arians, who was nominated for his work with the Colts, is the only NFL coach on the list. The other candidates are UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, Duke lacrosse coach John Danowski, Lousiville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino and Miami Heat coach Erik Spolstra. You can vote right here.

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